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Empowering women is critical for economy growth

Source | LinkedIn : By Paul Polman

There is very little left to discuss when it comes to gender parity in the workforce. The statistics are clear. According to McKinsey, companies across all sectors with the highest numbers of women on their boards significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation – by 41% for return on equity and by 56% for operating results. More generally, companies with more diverse workforces perform better.

Many businesses understand the advantages of gender parity. An overwhelming number of studies have shown time and time again that it’s good for talent development, culture, innovation, leadership and performance. Not least for a business like ours whose consumer base is 70% women.

But growing consensus on the importance of gender parity in business doesn’t mean that there are easy or quick fixes – the retention and promotion of women in business remains a challenge. In our case, Unilever is a company committed to gender parity and a diverse workforce. We are vocal and active supporters of initiatives and pledges that empower women. And we constantly review our policies to ensure that our business is an attractive place for women to build their careers.

Yet, we’ve still got a lot more work to do. While women represent nearly 45% of our management and we have gender parity on our board, women make up only 32% of our overall workforce. By achieving equal pay for equal jobs, balanced shortlists, implementing maternity and paternity support and development and mentoring programmes, we’re determined to meet that challenge.

Our responsibility – and the opportunities – go beyond our boardrooms and payslips. Companies can make an even bigger impact by leveraging their extended value chain. With operations in over 190 countries, reaching more than 2 billion consumers a day, our global scale and reach means that we have an opportunity and an ambition to empower five million women throughout our value chain, and improve the livelihoods of 800,000 smallholder farmers.

The biggest opportunity for us all is in Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals – achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. It permeates all of the other goals and it’s critical to economic growth, our best weapon to end poverty by 2030.

Allowing women to participate equally in economic and social life, with equal access to key drivers like education, land rights, finance and training, will positively impact all of the other Goals. In fact, not doing so will put all other goals at risk. When we empower women, society benefits, grows and thrives. According to the UN Foundation, women reinvest 90% of their income back into their families, while men reinvest only 30-40%. If women were to play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26%,could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.

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